There were no not-in-my-backyard complaints that often stall redevelopment pitches. There was just neighborhood support to restore the Red Bridge Shopping Center to be the retail hub of its glory days.
The Kansas City Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday heard a small parade of supporters back an $18.6 million proposal by Lane4 Property Group to buy and renovate the dilapidated center at Red Bridge and Holmes roads.
“If J.C. Nichols were alive today, he’d be in this room with us,” said Judith Unruh, one of a dozen project supporters who took the microphone in more than two hours of public testimony at City Hall.
The center and surrounding neighborhood were developed in the 1960s by the J.C. Nichols Co. The residential development plan emphasized community planning that, much like the Brookside or Prairie Village centers, included a retail center to improve the area’s livability.
But the center, owned by absentee landlords, is crumbling and it’s no longer a neighborhood gathering place. Occupancy has plummeted below 50 percent.
Committee chairman Scott Taylor, the 6th District at-large councilman, said it’s “time for a significant makeover to attract the quality of restaurants and small businesses that once thrived in this neighborhood.”
Fellow committee members agreed. The four council members voted unanimously to pass the measure along to the full City Council and the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority to consider Lane4’s request for tax abatement and a one-cent Community Improvement District sales tax to be assessed at the shopping center.
Only two people among about 50 supporters at the hearing questioned the proposal. Brad Lucht sought assurance that Lane4 wouldn’t resell the center to another absentee landlord, and Terrence Nash sought accountability about how taxing district revenues are spent.
Other area residents, including representatives of the South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the South Kansas City Alliance, Avila University and several neighborhood associations, expressed faith in the Lane4 group. They also concurred with the blight study by Sterrett Urban LLC, finding the shopping center to be woefully in need of rehabilitation.
“The shopping center has deteriorated so badly that it will take a great deal of money to restore and renovate it,” said Lawrence Marsh, president of the Red Bridge Homes Association. “Residents of Red Bridge and our 18 nearby neighborhoods do not want our shopping center to become just vacant buildings occupied by mice and rats.”
Lane4 vice president Brandon Buckley said the retail center is about 48 percent occupied. It has damaged and leaky roofs, trash, vandalism, uncontrolled weeds, outdated and unsafe electrical wiring, and no fire sprinklers in some parts.
“We’re trying to bring back the tenants — and the charm,” Buckley said. “Neighbors are telling us they want restaurants, patio space, outdoor seating, landscaping and a hardware store. They want quality tenants.”
The Lane4 representatives began meeting earlier this year with neighborhood groups to discuss buying the center. The company has an option to purchase the 149,282-square-foot property that’s good through September.
“If the shopping center is rehabilitated as the Lane4 plans describe, I am convinced that there will also be a corresponding increase in the value and tax revenue of property in the surrounding community,” said Rick Chambers, who has lived in the area for 31 years.
Chambers acknowledged that residents aren’t always fans of tax incentives granted to real estate developers. But he said the incentives are appropriate for the Red Bridge center.
Lane 4 proposed a tax freeze for 10 years, during which time it will pay existing taxes on the center, followed by a 50 percent tax abatement for an additional 15 years. The abatement on the last 15 years would be only on the increase generated from the revived center over the current tax basis.
That’s one of the reasons neighbors back the plan. The tax income generated from the property that is going to their schools and library would not be reduced from current levels. And, assuming renovation success, revenues from year 11 onward will produce higher tax revenues.
The Lane4 plan calls for an upgraded exterior — similar to what the developer did at Corinth Square in Prairie Village — as well as new landscaping and lighting.
The center’s 2015 asking price was listed at $7.24 million by S Management Group Inc. Jackson County’s latest property assessment was for $4.6 million.
The center unsuccessfully was listed for sale in 2011 for $8.375 million. At the time, it was about three-fourths occupied and had a four-screen movie theater and various retail shops and services in the tenant mix. The theaters closed last year, and many former tenants, including a hardware store, an ice cream parlor and a coffee house, also are gone.
The largest tenant, then and now, is a freestanding Lipari’s Sun Fresh grocery store at the south end of the center. Owner George Lipari attended the hearing and said he supported the plan, which also calls for about $1 million in remodeling for the grocery store.
A former bowling alley that had been converted to office use but now is empty is another freestanding building at the west side of the center, most of which has retail shop space arrayed around a central square.
“We think we have the potential to attract about 22 new tenants once they see what we’re putting into the center,” Buckley said. “And the tenants would put a lot more into their interiors. Once you start and people see the vision, they’re more likely to build on it.”
Several residents and Councilwoman Heather Hall asked for the tenant mix to include “mom-and-pops” or other small entrepreneurial businesses.
The property proposed for the Lane4 redevelopment doesn’t include the gas station, drugstore or bank that are freestanding buildings along Holmes.